A strange silence rules the nondescript village of Telo. Sometimes, it hangs eerily in the air, at others, it just rests on the sealed lips of the villagers. Nobody here wants anyone asking around for what happened in the village three years ago — the killing of ‘witch’ Marakudi Baski. When we reach her house, we find it locked. Where has the family gone? No one can tell. To the market, maybe? No one’s really sure.
Someone must know a couple of huts away, at the house of Munju Tudu — he is, after all, Marakudi’s brother-in-law. It was Munju’s son who had killed his aunt in a “fit of rage” and is now serving a 7-year sentence. Munju folds his hands, bows before us and offers us a seat in his courtyard. “Her family has gone to another village to a relative’s house,” he informs us.
Did they see any witchcraft: the special broom, the tell-tale tongue, any blood, I ask. Munju smiles a little, hesitates, and then says, “We suspected her. Everyone in the village, including the animals, was falling ill all the time. My boy would keep getting fever.” By this time, curious villagers are milling into the courtyard, listening in.
The Tudu family ‘witch’ was 40-something when she was killed by her 20-year-old nephew. “They would point fingers at our boy, saying there was a witch in my brother’s house. That night, the boy just lost it,” says Munju, who has a small land where he grows paddy. With meagre earnings, hunger is a way of life here and physical weakness an evil curse that refuses to go away.
Have things become better with the witch gone? Munju stares blankly. We ask again. He scratches his cheek and says, “There was a lot of trouble in the village then. Now people fall ill, but not seriously ill.” What about his brother’s family? “Our relations are fine. We share the land now.”
A local activist has an explanation for Munju’s problems: “The tamarind tree in his courtyard is a bad omen. It gives out a lot of carbon dioxide... people will definitely fall ill.” Munju listens intently.
By now the villagers have figured out what our visit might be about. But no one wants to offer any insight into their world. “Whatever happened was bad. We didn’t like it, we don’t support it, but what can be done now,” says one. The rest is the familiar silence.